Saturday, March 5, 2016

James Connolly - An Unpublished Letter (1973)

From the October 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
Below is a previously unpublished letter from Connolly to the Edinburgh branch of the Social Democratic Federation. We publish it, together with a commentary and an assessment of Connolly’s political career, as it throws some interesting light on the “Impossibilist revolt” in the SDF which eventually led to the founding of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904.
Memo from Irish Socialist Republican Party.
Central Branch.
To: Sec. Edin. S.D.F

1 November 1901.
Dear Comrade,
I am forwarding herewith a copy of the pamphlet part of this month’s “Workers Republic”. The full paper will be delivered in a few days. I must take this opportunity to congratulate you on the magnificent stand made by the Scotch and more especially the Edinburgh comrades against the present compromising policy of the leaders of the S.D.F. Things may seem to look dangerous for you at present, but time is on your side, and when the English branches really realise the issues at stake and understand your position, the triumph will be yours. I speak with the knowledge of who one having been all through England knows that the only hope of the gang in power is to keep the English comrades ignorant. The present issue of our paper is primarily intended to prevent that hope being realised, by giving the large number of English branches who now take our paper a more clear exposition of this question than Justice has allowed them to have.
I only wish our paper was bigger or that our plant was more suitable for rapid printing than it is at present, but we are poor and we are still short of the cash necessary to supply us with a quick printing machine, but such help as we have we will readily give to you.
I would only say in conclusion to beware of all dodges and devices to drive you out of the S.D.F. Help in the organisation, do not be brow-beaten, nor get disgusted; for the sake of those who are in remain in also, and sooner or later you will find your policy tacitly adopted by the whole body even if they do not admit their indebtedness to you.
For the Revolution
Your old comrade
James Connolly

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh on 5 June 1868, the son of an Irish immigrant labourer. He went to work at the age of ten or eleven and then seems to have joined the British army, being stationed in Cork. In 1889 he left (deserted) and went back to Scotland planning to marry a girl he had met in Dublin. In Dundee Connolly, who must already have had vague radical Irish nationalist sentiments, joined the local branch of the Socialist League. This was a breakaway from the Social Democratic Federation in 1884, in which William Morris was prominently involved. However by this time there was little difference between the Socialist League and the SDF and it was only an accident that Connolly joined the one and not the other. Soon in Scotland the two bodies united to form the Scottish Socialist Federation which in 1895 became the Edinburgh branch of the SDF. It was this organisation which first introduced Connolly to Socialist and Marxist ideas.

But the SDF was not an uncompromisingly Socialist body. It advocated reforms (or “palliatives” as they were then called) as stepping stones towards Socialism and was involved in the general ferment of the time in favour of independent (of the Liberals, that is, and not necessarily Socialist) working-class representation in Parliament and local councils. Connolly himself seems also to have been a member of the ILP as well as being secretary of the Edinburgh branch of the SSF/SDF. In 1894 he had stood as a “Labour” candidate in the local elections. Being an unskilled labourer - and an “agitator” - he found work difficult to get and eventually advertised his services to the “Labour movement” as a paid speaker, lecturer, and organiser. His offer was taken up by the Dublin Socialist Society and in 1896 he and his family left Scotland for Ireland.

In Dublin he was instrumental in forming an Irish Socialist Republican Party similar in character to the SDF. Basically “Labourist”, it also argued some Socialist and Marxist ideas. But it had a programme of palliatives ranging from nationalisation of the railways and a 48-hour week to free maintenance for children and universal suffrage. And it supported the demand for Irish independence. This last was quite in accord with the Social Democratic (though not Socialist) thinking which, when it spoke of “international socialism”, envisaged this as a federation of independent national “socialist republics”; so, on this view, insofar as “the Irish” were to be regarded as a “nation” they were entitled to an independent State - so ran the mistaken Social Democratic argument which Connolly accepted.

He believed that only through the establishment of an Irish “socialist republic” could Ireland really become independent of England, and appealed to Irish nationalist sentiment on this basis. He was of course an implacable opponent of the Irish Home Rule MPs at Westminster, pointing out that Home Rule under capitalism would make no difference to the poverty and misery of the workers of Ireland. In fact up until the turn of the century the activities of the IRSP seem to have been a combination of Labourism and Irish Republicanism, both of which were deviations from straight agitation for working-class political power for Socialism.

But by 1900 the position inside the SDF was changing. Some of the younger members were challenging the autocracy and opportunism of the clique around Hyndman which dominated the organisation. In Scotland they came under the influence of Daniel De Leon and the American Socialist Labor Party which some of them had come across at the Paris Congress of the Second International in 1900. Connolly, who still kept in contact with Scotland, also to a certain extent came under their influence. In 1901 he had done a paid speaking tour in England and Scotland.
The American SLP was on what might be called the extreme left of the Second International. It was completely opposed to compromises with the bourgeois parties and was moving towards saying that the struggle for reforms was futile and that instead socialists should concentrate exclusively on the capture of political power for Socialism via the ballot box. (The SLP’s syndicalism deviation was to occur later, as we shall see) It still, however, had a national rather than world conception of “socialism” (and still does to this day)

In 1899 a French “Socialist” MP by the name of Millerand accepted a post in a bourgeois government There was an immediate storm. At the Paris Congress of the Second International a compromise resolution which condemned Millerand but not the principle of participating in bourgeois governments, was carried in place of one opposing participation on principle. The critics, or “impossibilists” as they were called (since they were supposed to be saying that improvements in working-class conditions under capitalism were impossible and so not worth striving for), also challenged the lack of Party control over Justice which, despite being the SDF’s official organ, was owned and controlled by Hyndman and some of his friends.

Connolly associated himself with the impossibilists and allowed them to use the IRSP paper, the Workers’ Republic, to put their case on this, and other issues. A pamphlet of the pages was later published as the New Evangel which shows the limitations of Connolly’s position at this time. He still had not broken with the idea that a socialist party should struggle for palliatives as well as for Socialism. In fact the following January he stood as a candidate in the Dublin local elections on a programme of immediate demands.

Perpetually short of money, Connolly decided to go later that year on a speaking tour to America to help the American SLP get the Irish vote (yes, despite their stand on reforms, aspects of opportunism survived!). Before he went he arranged to for the press on which theWorkers Republic was printed to be used to publish a journal called The Socialist, on paper the organ of the Scottish Council of the SDF but in fact controlled by the Scottish “impossibilists”. In America he spoke all across the country from New York and Buffalo to San Francisco and Los Angeles. He returned to Ireland an SLP man. In January 1903 he again stood for the local council in Dublin. This time, however, there was no immediate demands in his programme, only the advocacy of political power for Socialism via the ballot box - in fact the sort of election manifesto we ourselves could have endorsed.

Meanwhile things were coming to a head in the SDF. At their 1903 Conference in London over Easter the expulsion of the leading Scottish impossibilists, Yates, was confirmed. The other Scottish impossibilists thereupon resigned and in June was founded the Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain, with The Socialist as its official organ. Connolly, who was on another paid speaking tour of Scotland at the time (and reversing the opinion expressed in 1901 to stay in the SDF), chaired the first conference of the new party and was appointed its first organiser. However, the new party, like the SDF, had it list of palliatives - a move to delete them was defeated and it was not until 1905 that they were dropped, probably under the influence of the SPGB which never had such a list. By then Connolly was in America but it is probably safe to assume, in view of his subsequent evolution of his political ideas, that in 1903 he had been one of those in favour of the SLP having a reform programme.

The SPGB had been formed in June 1904 by the London “impossibilists”. Right from the start it advocated only socialism and had no reform programme. Among the founding members was Alex Anderson, who before moving to London had been the Secretary of the Edinburgh branch of the SDF.

To complete the Connolly story. In the autumn of 1903 he returned to America hoping to pursue his chosen career as a professional “labour organiser” by getting a job with the SLP. He got no such job, though he remained an SLP member and activist becoming a member of its National Executive Committee. In 1905 the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was founded in Chicago. Connolly, as part of the SLP delegation, attended this congress and spoke on their behalf in favour of founding the new organisation. This support for the IWW represented a complete reversal of the previous policy of the SLP and its leader Daniel De Leon. Previously they had stressed the primacy of political action through a class-conscious socialist political party; now they reduced political action to a subordinate, supporting role to the “socialist industrial unions” which were to take and hold the means of production. Connolly accepted this syndicalism deviation from Marxism and also its corollary that the industrial unions were to be the future administration of “socialist” society.

Connolly, however, was beginning to get tired of the sectarianism of the SLP and had already spoken in favour of a merger between the SLP and the more opportunist Socialist Party of America. In March 1907 he helped establish an “Irish Socialist Federation”. This brought him into conflict with the SLP hierarchy and led to his expulsion or resignation (depending on your point of view). Anyway he left, and continued his career as a professional organiser by getting a job with the IWW. The IWW was in reality a militant general union with a revolutionary ideology and, like all unions, (as they must to be effective, of course) recruited members on an open-house principle, i.e. workers of all political views and not just revolutionaries. In January 1908 The Harp was launched as the organ of the ISF and Connolly used it to urge support for Eugene Debs, the SPA candidate in the 1908 Presidential elections. This despite the fact that the IWW, for which he worked, had that year adopted a completely anti-political stance - though this was the occasion on a rare sensible comment from Connolly: asked if this meant he was against the workers taking political action to establish Socialism, he replied that when the time came “it would be impossible to prevent the workers taking it”, a point that could well be borne in mind by today‘s anti-parliamentarians. But he soon moved to a new job in line with his increasingly reformist views, becoming in 1909 a national organiser for the SPA.

When he returned to Ireland in July 1910 he had gone quite reformist. His new job was organiser for the “Socialist Party of Ireland”. This was the at-this-time somewhat moribund successor to the IRSP he had founded in 1896, a self-styled “Marxist” party involved in reformist and Irish nationalist politics. The SPI soon found it couldn’t afford a paid organiser so Connolly moved on to become the Belfast organiser of Larkin’s Irish Transport Workers Union. Here he joined in the campaign to get the Irish TUC to set up an Irish (as, purposely, opposed to the British ) Labour Party, i.e. a non-socialist, trade union party to act as a pressure group in the expected Home Rule Parliament. This was eventually done in 1912.

So Connolly had now embraced Labourism and it is not surprising to find him standing as a Labour (and Irish nationalist) candidate on a completely reformist programme in the Belfast municipal elections of January 1913. Later that year he returned to Dublin to play a leading role in resisting the Great Lock-Out through which the Dublin employers, led by William Murphy, tried to destroy the ITWU. Connolly stayed on afterwards as the acting general secretary. The depth of his reformism at this period can be gauged from reading his Re-conquest of Ireland. This envisages “socialism” being established in Ireland as a gradual process, commencing with “municipal socialism”, a reform of the educational system, etc. A sentimental nationalism (so often found in “patriots” born outside their “native” country, as Connolly was) with talk of the “soul of the Irish nation” is also evident.

When the first world war broke out Connolly can at least be given credit for opposing it, though behind the socialist rhetoric it is possible to detect a more basic Irish nationalism. As the war dragged on Connolly was to get involved in a conspiracy with “pure and simple” republicans to stage an armed uprising with help from Imperial Germany, to try to establish an independent Irish Republic. He began to neglect his trade union duties for military training and put the Irish Citizen Army, originally a self-defence body formed by the ITWU to protect its members from police brutality, at the disposal of the Republicans. The “rising” at Easter 1916 was a fiasco, easily put down by the British army. Connolly was executed for his part in it and so became an Irish National Hero - a sad end for someone who for a while came near to becoming a revolutionary socialist but who later fell back into the bog of careerism, Labour reformism and Irish republicanism.
Adam Buick

The War to End War (1919)

From the June 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since August 1914 the assertion has been continually cropping up in the most unlikely places that the “ Great War” was being fought in order to prevent, for all time, the possibility of such a disaster ever again overtaking the world. The workers of every country engaged in the struggle were urged to come in and do their bit, so that when the strife was over and one side or the other emerged victorious a reign of perpetual peace should be inaugurated.

Papers and people of the sentimental type, such, for instance, as the “Daily News” and Harold Begbie, were particularly vehement in their repeated declarations that the war that has been devastating Europe for the past five years was, must and should be the last, or as some of them put it, the very last war.

A great many people believed it. Undoubtedly many men joined the Army and fought and died in the belief that they were acting in the best possible way to prevent the recurrence of such an overwhelming catastrophe. They were inflamed with what is so often, and so erroneously, considered the noble idea of self-sacrifice, were willing to go through a course of brutal and degrading training in the art (!) of warfare, allowed themselves to be sent abroad to kill and be killed at the command of their superior officers, thinking that they were thereby helping to make future generations safe from the horrors of militarism. They were most of them quite sincere in the matter. Mixed with the contempt one cannot help but feel for their wrong-headed and foolish idea of patriotic self-sacrifice, we may perhaps spare a little leaven of pity for the waste of what was in its inception a not altogether ignoble impulse.

The utter foolishness of this idea of the late war having as one of its results the ending of all warfare, can be seen at once if we consider the world situation to-day.
  • The Entente and its allies are fighting the Hungarian revolutionarists.
  • The Entente and the reactionary Russian party are fighting both the Bolsheviks and the Poles.
  • The German Government are fighting the German Spartacists.
  • The Bulgarian Government is fighting the Bulgarian revolutionists.
  • The Italians and the Jugo-Slavs are on the verge of a conflict (if such has not already started).
  • The Greeks are calling up their 1920 class of recruits, to be ready for anticipated happenings in the Balkan States.
  • New Zealand is alarmed at what it considers to be the aims of the Japanese to dominate the Pacific.
  • There are rebellions and riots, accompanied by wholesale executions and repressions, in India and Egypt.
  • Ireland is only kept from an outbreak by the menace of machine-guns and tanks.
  • There are strike-riots in Australia and in America.
  • Conflicts, with many casualties resulting, have taken place between the French authorities and the French trade unions.
  • England is nominally the most peaceful, but even here there is an undercurrent of discontent among all sections of the populace, which may at any moment break through the sheep-like docility of the British working man.

Perpetual peace has not even started to be yet awhile.

Anyone who has even the most rudimentary knowledge of economics knows how futile are the expectations as to a capitalist war, waged all capitalist States, resulting in a cessation of by armed conflict While capitalism lasts; while certain groups of capitalists struggle among themselves for, the possession of the most-favoured—from the profit-making standpoint—portions of the earth; while you have such groups intriguing one against the other for the possession of the world markets, you must inevitably have a condition of things that leads eventually to war. There comes a time when neither of the rival groups will give way: then comes a deadlock and an appeal to their respective governments, leading up to appeals to the credulous working man in the various countries to join up and fight “the war to end war,” “the war of liberty,” “the war to make the world safe for democracy,” “the war for the rights of small nationalities,” and the war for all the other catch-phrases with which we have become familiar during the last few years.

The way to end war is by the detraction of the root-cause of war, that is by the destruction of the capitalist system itself. There can be no escape from the spectacle of bloodshed, rapine, and horror while capitalism lasts.

The Socialist, from his inception as Socialist, has for his part been waging a war more bitter and deadly even than that which has reddened the plains and fouled the air of Europe. His war is the age-long struggle of the dispossessed against the owners of the world’s wealth. This is the last and greatest war, the waging and winning of which stand as beacons of hope in this dark age of death and destruction.

To his comrades in the fight the writer sends a message of courage and endurance; to the non-Socialist members of his class (his future comrades) he voices an appeal for a patient and intelligent examination of the principles of Socialism; to both he reiterates his assurance of the final speedy emancipation of his class from the thralldom of capitalism to the new-born freedom of the Socialist Commonwealth.
F. J. Webb

Class struggle (1991)

From the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The class struggle is a very real historical fact within capitalism arising from commodity production and exchange. At the very heart of this transient social system, there exists an antagonistic struggle between a majority class of workers who administer, design, produce and distribute all the social wealth of society as commodities and a small minority which, although playing no part in the productive process, has the major advantage of owning and controlling all the resources of the planet—the factories and the distribution and communication systems and also what the workers produce.

Since workers do not own and control the various forms of property found in capitalism we are, as a class, cut off from deciding what should be produced, how and for whom. “No profit, no production" is the rule. If profits are to be protected by deliberate under-production, burning of foodstuffs or the taking of farming land out of production, then under capitalism this has to be carried out. Ownership and control of property with a view to profit means that the facilities required to meet social needs and aspirations are going to he severely restricted.

Excluded from ownership and control, workers are forced to trade their mental and physical abilities (their labour power) as a commodity to capital for a wage or a salary. The class struggle has its origins in the exploitation of the workers’ labour power by employers during the production process. The origin of profit is an excess produced by workers over the value of the goods which sustain and reproduce their labour-power. This surplus is taken by the capitalists on account of their monopoly as a class over the means and methods of production and distribution. On the one hand there are the employers trying to extract as much surplus value out of the workforce as possible while, on the other hand, workers are struggling, usually in trade unions, to gain higher wages and better working conditions at the expense of profit.

These conflicting class interests between an oppressive class and a subject class cannot be balanced harmomiously. If profits are threatened then it is the standard of living of the working class which is attacked. If there is an accidental over-production of commodities which cannot be sold on the market then it is the jobs of workers which are at risk with all the hardship and worry that unemployment brings.

Naturally the existence of the class struggle is not to the liking of those who are paid to defend the economic interests of the capitalist class. Many academics and politicians try to get around the question of the class struggle by disputing its existence or blaming it on the writings of Karl Marx. But Marx merely found classes and the class struggle existing as a historical fact. In recent years these intellectual prostitutes have pointed to the low level of strikes during the late I980s compared to the mid-1970s as an indication of the class struggle’s demise. However, like the reported eclipse of Marx’s ideas and his scientific analysis of capitalism due to events in eastern Europe, this obituary is wholly premature. The critique of political economy and the class struggle only end with the abolition of capitalism by a working-class socialist majority not by the wishful thinking of economists or journalists.

Strikes and the state
Strikes, like trade unions themselves, are effects of the class struggle not the cause. The class struggle is due to the very class nature of capitalism. It is also a two-way struggle. In times of high profits when capitalism is booming, employers will generally concede to pay demands. The last thing they want is for profitable production to be curtailed through industrial action. But during depressions capitalists dig in their heels and resist, with workers defending previous gains from the encroachment of capital. At times of high unemployment trade unions lose effectiveness as membership declines and firms are unable to pay wage increases without going bankrupt.

The class struggle must become political if workers are to realise their class interests and ensure that production and distribution is undertaken to meet the needs of society rather than the anti-social pursuit of profit. But why? After all, the capitalist class play no role in the productive process. Why can’t workers just take what they need? This question overlooks one important feature of capitalism: the state.

The state is the instrument used by governments to protect the property ownership of the capitalist class whose general and particular interests they represent. This is done in a number of ways. First, governments formulate economic or social policies to attack wage levels like the ill-fated Incomes Policy of the 1960’s under Harold Wilson. Second, the government of the day, Labour or Conservative, can use state violence against workers, breaking strikes, imprisoning trade unionists or passing anti—working—class legislation. Third, the government finances a continual stream or propaganda via schools, universities and other institutions it subsidises.

The political power used to protect the property of the capitalist class is also vulnerable because it is dependent upon workers periodically voting capital's political parties into power to protect it anti further capitalist interests.

Death knell
If the working class is to create a society of free men and women in which social wealth production is held in common and democratically controlled, they must stop voting for the interests of capital. Instead, they must take political action as socialists in order to capture political power and gain control of the machinery of government. Since workers are the last oppressed class in human history it is only by their political action that socialism can be established. The failure of Leninism to impose “socialism” on society by a group of professional revolutionaries has shown that workers must freely accept the need for socialism and understand their active part in its realisation, rather than surrender their political thinking to leaders.

Socialists are in fact workers ourselves facing the same social and economic problems peculiar to our class. We know where our class interests lie and how our political objective is to be achieved, yet the only tool we possess to demonstrate to workers where their class interests lie is continual argument and persuasion wherever the opportunity presents itself. The contradictions inherent within commodity production can only intensify as the techniques and forces of production are continually subordinated to further the aims of profit. It is the very material conditions of capitalism, along with socialist argument, which convince workers to accept the need for socialism, and when enough workers do, the death knell of capitalism will peal across the six continents of the world.
Richard Lloyd

Waste amidst want (1966)

Editorial from the August 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is now a world of potential plenty. Yet all but a few are deprived in some way and many starve. At the same time part of the world’s resources are used up in making weapons of war and in training men and women to use these weapons. How is this terrible paradox to be explained ?

The technical basis of modern society is large-scale, mass-producing industry which can only be operated by co-operative labour. By its nature it draws into the work of producing things millions of people the world over. These millions work not on their own; they work together. No man makes anything by himself; he only plays a part in the co-operative labour through which things are today produced. Farms, factories, mines, mills and docks are only geographically separate. Technically they depend on each other as links in a chain. They are only parts of a world-wide productive system. In other words the world is one productive unit.

Common sense would suggest that, to take full advantage of this world-wide productive system, it should be owned and controlled as a unit. That it should belong in common to all mankind and be controlled by them for their own benefit. But of course, this is not so. The means and instruments for producing wealth are not owned in common by us all. They are of a few. Nor are they used to make what we need. They are used to make things to be sold.

This is what is behind the paradox of waste amidst want. The problem of war, militarism and armaments is just one of the many which must arise as long as there is private property and production for sale instead of common property and production for use.

Those who own the world and its instruments of production compete against each other in buying raw materials and in selling finished products. This competition is not just economic; political means too are used. The competing owners, in groups, have at their disposal armed forces. To protect and further their interests is why these forces exist. The economic conditions of capitalism make them necessary. Any group of owners which controlled no armed forces would be in a sorry state. Not only would it be unable to keep others off its own wealth but it would also be unable to take and hold sources of raw materials or to erect tariff barriers to keep others out of a market or to control ports and trade routes around the world. In other words it would soon go under. The owners thus compete by political and economic means for sources of raw materials, markets and trade routes. When other political means fail all that is left is brute force—the organised, scientific killing and destruction that is war.

Not only must groups of owners have armed forces but they are always under pressure to equip them with the most destructive weapons. For in their struggles might is right. So resources are devoted to research into nuclear physics, biochemistry and space, to develop ever more destructive weapons. Millions of men and women are conscripted or enticed into the armed forces and trained to kill, wound and destroy.

Militarism is the inevitable outcome of commerce, of the buying and selling that goes with the private ownership of the world’s resources. To abolish militarism we must abolish commerce. To abolish commerce we must replace private property by common properly, that is, we must establish Socialism. This means a world wide change that will bring social relationships and productive forces into harmony. Only then will the resources of the world be able to provide the plenty they are capable of, instead of being wasted on such things as arms.

Of Kings and Queens (1953)

Editorial from the June 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under Elizabeth I the first poor law was introduced; Under Elizabeth II the mass of people are still poor. In the centuries between we have had an industrial revolution that covered the country with densely populated cities and huge factories, and converted a large part of the population into makers, menders and attenders of machines; conditioned to work at high pressure, fight at high pressure, listen at high pressure and even play at high pressure.

The footpad has gone from the road but the roads are more dangerous than ever from fast-moving traffic; in spite of the developments in medicine and sanitary engineering illness is rife in the overcrowded cities; the leisurely meandering of life has been succeeded by a breathless speed and the urge to cut out the “waste” of quiet contemplation and the joy in the production of things well done. Cataracts of books have been published on social questions, on co-operation, on human kindness in one form or another; books that have had a wide circulation and the recommendation of prominent people and powerful organisations; yet the world has been decimated by wars of increasing dimensions and ferocity, famines rage on a vaster scale on different parts of the earth, fresh nourishing food has become harder to obtain by the mass of people, cruelty and inhuman conduct organised by governments have spread over the world, and fear and insecurity have become ingrained into the outlook of all.

Trading, which originated in the barter of useful things for mutual advantage, had become an object in itself under the first Elizabeth and has since spread to everything and to everywhere until nowadays the different products of man’s teaming brain and skilful hands all depend upon trade, are produced for trading; even the producer himself is the subject of trading— the scientist, the labourer, the artist, the entertainer, the player of games, and the like are bought, sold, lent or leased, in this trading that is based upon the pursuit of profit. The end of centuries of invention, contriving and building has, so far, been the commercialising of everything. In this country, once described as “the richest land under the sun,” a chancellor of the exchequer has just drawn acclamations for a Budget, easing a few restrictions, which his eulogisers describe as “ leading us out from the confines of restriction to free endeavour and greater rewards for effort.” Such is the legacy of centuries of achievement.

In such a world pomp, display and glamour are a useful means to help disarm antagonism and lull discontent; they are like water in the desert to thirsty travellers, a welcome diversion to those who pine for excitement and display to enliven the monotony of a machine conditioned society and who look for some outlet, in a cramping world, for normal human emotions. To the socialist the coronation festival has no more significance than this—a buttress to maintain conditions as they are.

Royalty is only a product of society in certain historical times. In some periods the holder of the crown has had considerable power, both in this country and abroad. At present, wherever it exists it is only the figurehead of sections of the capitalist class. In spite of hereditary succession leading representatives are removable if they do not toe the line to what is required of them as Edward Vlll and others have found to their cost. In this country their statements and actions are determined by the particular Cabinet of the party or combination of parties in power. Part of their function as sovereigns is to fob off discontent and dissatisfaction, and give a fillip to the British capitalist group, by attending ceremonies of different kinds, making tours and being the centre of scintillating festivals. Their job is not so rosy because they have no respite from the glare of limelight.

That kings and queens are neither a social necessity nor a divinely inspired condition is evident from the rapidity with which so many have lost their places in recent times and have hardly been missed. Whether the figure-head of nations be kings or queens, dictators or presidents, prime-ministers or popes, the property basis of society, with the evils that flow from this property basis for the mass of people, remains much the same. Society still continues to be split into a relatively small section of privileged living in idleness and comfort, and a vast mass of unprivileged who live by working and gain comparatively little from doing so.

In a socialist society there would be no place for kingship or other figureheads. The means of living being the common possession of all mankind, people will work together in co-operative harmony to make life as pleasant and colourful as human ingenuity can contrive. There will be a joy in working together that is absent today. Gatherings for spontaneous pleasure and the outlet of effervescing emotions will not require figureheads and spurious propaganda to inspire them. What mankind has made possible by its accomplishments in different directions over the centuries will become means to make life as full as possible for all instead of being used, as today, to increase the wealth of die privileged. Kings and Queens will be relieved of their monotonous round of useless ceremonies, and the wealthy of the problem of wondering how to occupy their time and squander their easily got wealth. People will no longer be required to kow-tow as subjects to monarchs or wage-slaves to masters.

“Kings are only kings because we are on our knees. Let us arise.”

Leave Taking (1995)

Theatre Review from the June 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock, National Theatre, Cottlesloe and touring.

Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking is sturdily unusual. Written by a black woman—the child of a West Indian immigrant—it tells the story of Enid, a single mother, and her two adolescent daughters. Delores and Viv, as Enid tries to deal with the death of her own mother in Jamaica, and her daughters try to discover their identities as adults. Its refreshing simplicity contrasts starkly with the spurious glitz and glitter, the condescension and the pretence, of much of the commercial theatre. It is faultless and touchingly played by a small company of black actors and actresses. It is a breath of fresh air.

Pinnock's characters have a rounded credibility which makes them immediately acceptable. They are true to their own lights—persuasively recognisable as unique human beings—and yet it is easy to imagine that we might meet them in the street, on a bus. at work. Only the best dramatists are able to do this: to convince us of the genuineness of their characters and yet allow us to recognise in their experiences and their dilemmas, something of the common currency of all our lives.

Leave Taking is nominally about being a West Indian immigrant; about growing up in a predominantly white society. But it is also about being rootlessness, coping with life in contemporary Britain, and becoming an adult. In the experiences of half-a-dozen black people living in London we begin to see the impact of larger social forces on their lives and. by extension, on our lives too. Pinnock’s characters may be black but most of the challenges they face transcend their colour. They are also our challenges, and they are shaped by relative poverty and their need to find employment—in a word by their class.

Leave Taking is about particular individuals facing particular psychological challenges. But these challenges are rooted in a social context; one which, as members of the working class, we share. And as the lives of Enid, Delores and Viv unfold, we also learn something of our own lives, and of the class-based communalities which bind us together.
Michael Gill

Mistaking Your Wife for a Hat (1995)

Theatre Review from the June 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

I remember my first “meeting” with Oliver Sacks. When you find your partner reading a book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, the moment tends to stick in the memory.

Sacks is a doctor who works with people suffering from neurological disorders. In The Man Who he wrote movingly about some of his patients: about, for example, a musician who could not recognise everyday objects: a man who remembered nothing of his life after the age of seventeen; a woman who had lost all sense of her own body; a man who imagined that his left leg was not his own; and. of course, of the man who thought his wife was a hat.

After a year of painstaking research—talking to experts, reading, watching tapes, and spending time with patients suffering from neurological illnesses, etc.—director Peter Brook, writer Helene Estienne, four actors and a musician, have miraculously transformed Sacks's warmhearted and sensitive book into a compelling work of drama. Playing variously patients, doctors, nurses and technicians. Brook's actors offer us a series of clearly differentiated snapshots of abnormal behaviour; the result of malfunctions deep inside the brain. Writing in the programme Brook observes that "whatever the social and national, barriers, we all have a brain and we think we know it. But the moment we go inside, we find we are on another planet".

Brook says of Sacks that "his most essential clinical instrument is his own heart", and certainly what illuminates a glorious piece of theatre is not so much the mysteries of neural dysfunctionality as a sense of shared humanity. We are in the presence of compassion and imaginative empathy, rather than peering voyeuristically through keyholes.

Theatre like this has the capacity to change the way we see both the world and ourselves. I shall long remember the penultimate scene in which a man who presumes—as we all do—that he is voicing words in what he imagines as a sensible discourse, turns on a tape recorder and hears himself speaking gibberish. The audience was engulfed in stirring compassion. How shocking then to leave the theatre and be presented with another reality: newspaper headlines screaming with Clinton’s demand that the Oklahoma bombers should be executed.

Dramas like The Man Who are deeply subversive. They offer in a class-riven world a view of other possibilities. Socialism won’t end neurological disorders but. by changing the climate in which we live—by replacing profit and exploitation with the satisfaction of human needs through co-operation—our efforts will be directed towards the well-being of humankind rather then the legal but brutal murder of other likely victims of a violent society.
Michael Gill

Life in the Fast Lane (2016)

The Action Replay column from the March 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Maria Teresa de Filippis has died at the age of 89. She was the first woman to drive in Formula 1 and competed against such giants as Giuseppe Farina, Alberto Ascari and serial Grand Prix winner Juan Manuel Fangio, the sport’s first three world champions.
She was regarded as an independent and sometimes bloody-minded character. Born in Naples in 1926, her early years were marked by a passion for horse riding. Her conversion to four wheels arose after her brothers challenged her to prove she could drive a car as well as she could ride a horse. Aged just 22, Maria made her first racing debut in the 1948 Salerno Cavi dei Tirreni, where she finished second overall in a Fiat 500. In 1954 she contested the Italian Sportscar Championship and finished second overall and was invited to drive for Maserati. In 1958, she was entered for the Monaco GP but failed to qualify. Graham Hill, one of her opponents and future world champion, finished 15th. Undaunted, Maria qualified for the Belgian GP and finished 10th.
Recalling the names of her male competitors such as Fangio, Moss and Behra, she remarked ‘in the end the car was important. But the racer was more important than they are today. I loved this period because I loved to race these guys.’ Racing against them, Maria realised she had no fear. After one of the races, Fangio came up to her and said, ‘Maria Teresa, you race too hard. You do more than you can.’
During this time, Maria Teresa had grown close to French driver Jean Behra, who had assembled a hybrid racer based on a Porsche design, for her to race in 1959. Behra was sacked by Ferrari for assaulting team manager Romolo Taverni, leaving him without a ride. Maria insisted that Jean drive the car instead of her and didn’t attend the race. Later listening to the radio she heard that Behra was dead. Immediately, she decided to stop racing, realising that too many of her friends had gone.
De Filippis retired to raise a family. Later she visited grand prix paddocks around the world with her husband Theo, who ran the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers.